Thursday, November 20, 2008

Saving Thanksgiving

New England has maintained considerable "Thanksgiving awareness" since the days when the Pilgrims were supported by native people along the Massachusetts coast in growing and harvesting indigeneous foods, a real cause for celebration in a hungry colony. Thus, it may be a little known fact that our national Thanksgiving holiday needed saving at one point in history. The picture book entitled Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving (by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner) tells the story. Sarah Josepha Hale, a teacher, writer and editor, felt Thanksgiving should be a holiday across the nation, not just at the whim of an individual state's decision to make it a day of thanks. Beginning with U. S. President Zachary Taylor, Sarah (who wrote letters and editorials about many causes of the day) began a letter-writing campaign that spanned five presidencies. Finally, in 1863, she was successful in getting a "Yes!" from Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving was firmly established as a holiday the fourth Thursday in November (well, for a while in the 1930s it was moved a week earlier to make a longer shopping season, but that failed). Sarah Hale proved that "the pen is mightier than the sword," though it took a long time!

In third grade library classes this week, we explored several sources of information about this event in history. Made curious by Anderson's book, we looked at a full biography of Sarah Josepha Hale in the Lawrence library collection and discovered how passionate she was personally about Thanksgiving as a time when an extended family comes together to give thanks; we then looked at the long Thanksgiving article in World Book Online, which linked us to its biography of Sarah Hale. Making connections among different sources of information is a satisfying and informative adventure. Long live Thanksgiving!